The Problem Child.

[fa icon="calendar"] Sep 20, 2017 4:39:33 PM / by Sherry Gaugler-Stewart


On a recent trip home I got to join my family for their weekly breakfast. The waitress took everyone’s order, and then looked to me for mine. I had no idea what my order would be, as I didn’t have a menu. Everyone else knew everything on the menu! So, when I asked her for one, and she brought it back, I jokingly apologized for being the “problem child” this morning. This was immediately met with another family member stating “I hate to tell you, dear, but you always have been.” Of course, I said I already knew this.

There was a time where this would have sent me into a spiral. Having grown up in a family impacted by alcoholism, I often felt like the problem child. I felt like the person who always upset the apple cart if she said anything was wrong. I didn’t know how to handle the many emotions I was having, so I would act out. I would counter this by trying to be exceptionally responsible. I would work really hard to try to achieve, to prove I wasn’t a problem. I wanted to prove I was lovable and I was worthy.

Of course, as a kid I had no awareness of any of this. I just kept bouncing back and forth between varying behaviors trying to find my way. I didn’t realize I was struggling and my reactions were normal for the abnormal situation I was dealing with. Normal – although so, so attractive – always felt elusive to me.

When I found my way into recovery as a family member, I was confused by the fact that they said the 12 Steps were for us, as well as our loved ones who were struggling with alcohol or drug addiction. I couldn’t imagine how they would apply to me. I wasn’t the one creating consequences! I wasn’t the one adding to the chaos! I shouldn’t be expected to make amends!

Or, so I thought.

I saw enough healing and light in those who were practicing the Steps in their lives that I decided to trust the process and give them a whirl. I started working hard, and subsequently started to feel much better. But, I was stopped in my path by abject fear at the thought of attempting Step 4.

The words to Step 4 in the Al-Anon program are “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” The thought of this was terrifying. I had an image in my head of writing pages and pages of the awful truth about me, and how broken and defective I was. These thoughts had been rolling around in my mind for many years, but the fear was that if I wrote them all down, I would no longer be able to avoid the truth: I am, in fact, the problem child, and I make things difficult for everyone else.

I knew if I wanted to move deeper into my recovery, I would have to slog through this Step. Under my sponsor’s guidance, I started to ask myself some questions, and do some digging into the truth about me. And, some further digging into what was underlying that truth.

My image was right in one respect: I did write pages and pages! But, instead of discovering all of the awfulness I thought I would find, I learned some details that forever changed my outlook on myself. I saw there were patterns of behaviors which brought me back to a handful of fears I had about myself.

It was in the digging under the digging that I was lead to this awareness. When I listed at a behavior I regretted on my 4th Step, I found there were false beliefs underlying the items I was writing about. The big three were: I’m not lovable, I’ve done something wrong, and I’m inadequate. If I’m having a major reaction to life, one of these three old ideas is most likely the culprit.

I found the wisdom in this process comes in the writing. After writing about the pages and pages of behaviors I regretted, I knew I didn’t want to react in these ways going forward. And, with the trust I had gained in my Higher Power from the first three Steps I learned I would be able to rely on Him to help me to develop new behaviors.

Today, after many years in recovery, I have not moved beyond human. I still can be triggered. But, with the information I’ve learned, and the tools I’ve developed along the way, I don’t have to revert back to old reactions. Although hearing a joke about being a “problem child” still creates a moment of twinge and discomfort, it doesn’t send me off on a marathon to prove all the ways this isn’t true. Today I know I have a choice, and healthy ways I can stand in my truth about me and respond accordingly, without letting the twinge of discomfort wreak havoc in my life. Recovery helps me to know my truth in each moment. This is one of the many gifts that have come from loving someone who has struggled, and subsequently finding support for myself.


Join Sherry on a retreat the weekend of September 29th-October 1st, 2017!

She will be facilitating a “Sought through Prayer and Meditation: an 11th Step Retreat”. 

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Topics: Alcoholics Anonymous, family recovery, 12 steps of aa, AA Big Book, Drug Rehab

Sherry Gaugler-Stewart

Written by Sherry Gaugler-Stewart

Director of Family and Spiritual Recovery

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